After about an hour
of catching up with Naomi on what each other had been up to, and another
half-hour of some of the most explicit insider gossip Harley had ever heard,
they settled into the purpose for their visit. Naomi had lots to say about
Valerie's comings and goings, and confirmed that someone who looked like
Nancy must be living there.
He did tell them about the parties Valerie had. The business parties that included limited drinking and dining and ended no later than midnight, as well as the usual de rigueur community open house's at Christmas and Fourth of July, where everyone who lived nearby stopped to share some booze and light conversation. The 'other' parties were the ones he'd only heard about.
"I've rarely found anyone to be more smarmy than Valerie. This whole town is filled with people who show a side of themselves to the world that has no relation to what they really are, but even with all her money, she can't hide the bitch inside." Naomi filled his cocktail glass with from the martini pitcher and indicated with his hand the iced tea pitcher sitting on the table as he looked at the Sheriff. She shook her head and watched as Emily did the same. Emily stubbed out another cigarette in the filling ashtray and sipped at her tea with a look of deep concentration on her face.
"I've never been to one of her 'private' parties. That's just not my scene, but I know someone who has. If you give me a couple of days, I can find out anything you need to know." He sat back after adding two more olives and put an elbow on each arm of the lounge chair, holding the bowl of the glass with the fingers of both hands, waiting for them to respond.
Due to the wrought iron security fencing and locked gate surrounding Valerie's house and the fact that Naomi told them you couldn't get in without a key or being buzzed in from the house, Harley and Emily decided just walking up and asking for Nancy might be a bad idea. If she was the one who broke into Stephanie's, just the sight of the Sheriff would keep her from answering the intercom. A phone call to Paris had confirmed that Valerie was at The Village for the weekend.
They'd been circumspect in asking for information from Naomi regarding what went on at Valerie's and, considering what a gossipmonger he was, Harley was surprised at his lack of curiosity about why they needed to know. She was however, more concerned about the pensive look ofÉworry- or something she couldn't quite put a name to, that she saw on the writer's face as Naomi started to fill them in on all he knew of his neighbor.
"She is a right and true bitch, but it's her desire to be top bitch. That's makes her so obnoxious. I have rarely, if ever, seen anyone's ego as large as Valerie's. This whole town is chock full of pretty people who'll do anything, or anyone, to be the bestÉthe mostÉthe it, but Ms. Val is the kind who wouldn't even stop at murder. She flat out scares me."
Just then, the front door opened and a dark haired, short man with a large nose and receding hairline came in with two dogs on leashes. One was a Russian wolfhound and the other a tiny purple poodle.
"Heeeey! Daddy's home!" Naomi shouted as he bounded from his chair and ran to the shorter man. He reached 'Daddy' just as he finished unleashing the dogs and stood up in time to be engulfed in a passionate kiss. It was almost comical to see. Naomi had to nearly bend in two in order to hold the much shorter man in his arms. Harley was impressed that with all that activity he didn't spill a drop of the martini from his glass.
As soon as the kiss ended, the shorter man took the glass from Naomi's hand, took a sip, grabbed him by the other hand, and then walked back toward the women bringing his tall lover behind him.
"Stanley." Emily said as she stood. "How good to see you. You look great."
The older man hugged the writer with the arm he held his glass in and said, "Shasta, my sweetheart, how good of you to notice." Harley wasn't expecting the deep bass voice that came out of the small man and almost laughed aloud at the surprise of it.
Emily proceeded to introduce him to Harley, briefly explain her injured arm, and accept the appropriate sympathies he extended. Then they all sat back down, only this time Naomi sat on Stanley's lap.
They made brief conversation and then Stanley reminded Naomi of their plans to drive to Irvine to have dinner with Stan's parents.
Harley and Emily made like good guests and told the guys they'd let them go to their dinner and talk to them later. Naomi walked them to the door and reminded them to call him on Monday and he'd tell them what he found out from someone he called, Ernie.
Settled in the car once again, the sheriff turned and spoke. "Well, since we can't do what we came here to do, how about we head home?"
They both thought about the implications of that word, one with trepidation, and one with a surprising sense of peace.
Emily nodded and smiled, turning to watch the traffic as the dark haired woman grit her teeth and started the car.
The man dialed the familiar set of thirteen digits and waited for the tone he knew so well. When it came, he entered another set of twelve digits and waited again. When the third tone came, he spoke.
"Four, October, time, fifteen-hundred. All clear. Request for N2 to respond to my base this evening after twenty-one hundred on secure three. End report."
The man sat and scratched his stubbled cheek and tried to figure out if what he'd seen- what he suspected- was a matter in which they needed to get involved.
Well, that's why it's always so nice to have a chain of command. There's always someone higher up where you can pass the buck. We'll see.
He rubbed his hands together and then went to the next room where he changed into another set of clothes identical to those he'd just taken off.
Moving into another room, he shuffled across the floor, his soles scuffing behind him on the floor until he reached the counter. He reached up, secured a cup and then poured the liquid from the steel pot into it.
He stared at his reflection in the machine seeing a rumpled looking, unremarkable man looking back at him as he contemplated what he knew of the activities in and around this small town.
Ah, well. No good worrying about it until I'm told to. With that, he took his cup into yet another room and read the newspaper.
Polly was in a right dither. After nearly twenty minutes on the toilet, she weakly made her way to the couch to lie down and try again to decide what to do.
If only there was someone to talk to about it. She didn't like the woman who called and half of her wanted to agree to sell just to get the woman out of her life, the other half was getting a feeling ofÉdanger from her. Maybe she should tell the law.
But what would I say to them. It's not against the law to get an offer on your land, even if the offer is thousands of dollars more than it's worth. They'd just think I was a fool to turn it down and that I was slipping into senility. Next thing you know, Twyla would be calling Livie and she'd have her worried and calling me. Children are not supposed to take care of their parents. I just wish I knew what to do.
The drive home was quiet, but this time the silence held more comfort than the drive down this morning. Conversation consisted of snatches of thought's put into comments or questions.
Halfway home something occurred to Harley and she went with her instincts to ask.
"So, tell me why you kept referring to Naomi as 'she'? I admit he's beautiful, but I wasn't expecting the outdoor plumbing."
Emily bent in two giggling. Between the laughing, she tried to pull in enough breath to explain.
"I'm sorry." She wiped at her tearing eyes with her good hand. "I always do that. It's just that she'sÉ" the giggles now became a snort, "he'ssuch a girl." She took a breath and continued. "We met when I got out of college. In fact he was my next-door neighbor at that apartment I told you about in Glendale. From the very first time we met I've always thought of him as just a, well, a girlfriend."
Emily remembered her first meeting with him. She was just beginning to bring in the first box when she saw this Adonis of a man tanning by the pool. They made very brief eye contact and he smiled at her. Her first thoughts were, of course, about his looks. Gay or not you couldn't overlook that. He was really gorgeous and then when he smiled at her she was afraid she was going to have to deal with another man who couldn't take no for an answer. By the time she had her door open, set the box down, and turned around, he was standing there in the hall leaning on her front door frame. She smiled and started to prepare to tell him she was attached. That sometimes worked unless their egos were too big.
"I'm just so jealous. I wanted this apartment but it wasn't available when I moved in. You have the biggest balcony in the whole complex. It's a full two feet longer than any of the others. I can't even fit a bar-b-que on mine and, I mean, what is summer in California if you can't grill seafood while sipping a Margarita, you know?"
They talked and by the end of the day, after he helped her move her things, they bought the bar-b-que together and had lots of dinner parties. They had been confidantes and buddies ever since. Although lately they hadn't seen a lot of each other, and Emily realized that was her fault. It made her kind of sad because whatever else was phony or shallow in her life, she knew that the affection they held for one another was genuine.
"Naomi, who's real name I won't tell you on pain of death, has been a really close friend for a long time. It took me all of about five minutes after meeting him to stop thinking of him as a guy. He doesn't really think of himself as one and he's so natural about it, most people stop thinking of him like that too, and if anyone can find out what we need to know, it's Naomi."
She thought about that and her mood darkened.
Harley noticed and considered whether to bring it up just as once, again, her cell phone rang.
While Harley answered her phone, Emily eavesdropped just enough to know it wasn't anything earth shaking and nothing, as far as she could tell, about their case. She began to ponder her dark thoughts a bit more thoroughly.
She wasn't sure. It might have been someone else but she had a sinking feeling it wasn't. If it wasn't than she was more familiar with Valerie than just hearing about her.
It was just before Halloween a year ago. In fact, it was close to a year ago exactly. She'd attended a party at a friend of a friend's and by the time she got there with Teddy, it was nearly midnight. Emily was, as usual, pretty wrecked.
The details of the meeting were sketchy in her memory but she did remember the tall slim redhead who seemed to zero in on her as soon as she walked in the door.
She couldn't remember any of the brief conversation but she remembered vividly the look in the woman's eyes and the way she felt as she danced in her arms in the darkest corner of the room. Mostly Emily remembered just what the redhead had whispered in her ear and how moist it made her. Her breathing was ragged and she was more than ready to comply with all the woman's demands. And they were demands, commands if you will, not requests. It had been a surprise and a kind of relief to finally be able to respond to that part of herself that she'd kept so hidden for so long.
The woman had just kissed her. It had been done to her, not a mutual meeting of mouths. She was about to leave with her when Teddy interrupted and pulled her out of the Domme's arms. Before she could tell Teddy to let her go, and that she was leaving with her new friend, Teddy passed out.
Normally she would have just let her be and allowed the woman to come to on her own later, but this time Emily saw something different. When Teddy collapsed in front of her, Emily realized that Teddy's breathing was erratic and her face was losing much too much color too fast. On instinct alone, she yelled for help and before the song on the CD finished playing, an ambulance was on it's way and the room cleared of anyone who didn't want to answer the questions of the officials who might be responding.
Looking back on it now she was grateful, but before this, she had always thought of it as an opportunity lost. She still felt the pull to 'play', to be taken, to experience the dominance she couldn't bring herself to ask of someone who knew her well, but she'd never wanted to be a victim. If the woman was Valerie, and she thought it was a good chance that it was, she was glad she'd been spared. Even if it had meant a night in a plastic chair in the emergency room while they stabilized Teddy from her overdose.
She had to admit; she still felt theÉpull.
She looked at Harley and felt the pull get stronger, felt it deepen in the mix of the other feelings she'd developed for the officer and then, as the Sheriff closed her phone and turned to her, felt the heat of a blush come over her from her collarbone to forehead.
The Sheriff saw it too and a dozen erotic thoughts filtered though her mind and settled between her legs.
She fidgeted and took a harder hold on the steering wheel, willing herself to just shut up and drive.
"No, I've taken care of that and the memo will be forwarded to finance in the morning. All I need to do now is have Josh sign the final papers as soon as they get faxed over and it's ours."
The man smiled at the jubilant response his call made to Arnie in Operations and shook his head at the older man driving the car who smiled knowingly.
"Yeah, yeah I know. It was a long time coming but it's gonna be worth it. Now get off the phone, turn off your computer, go home and get Alice, and go out to dinner on us. You deserve it. Without you we never would have pulled this off." He paused for a response and then said, "No, thank you. Good night, Arnie."
Josh Ravensdown took one hand off the steering wheel just long enough to brush his fingers through his shiny salt and pepper hair. He smiled at his son and said, "I take it that floated Arnie's boat?"
"Oh, yeah. That was one happy head of Operations there." He chuckled a bit as he replaced the phone in its cradle on the dash. "You'd think this was his idea the way he got off on it. Anyway, now all we have to do is have you sign the papers when they get to the office and the fat lady done sung." He yawned a bit. 'I'm, sure looking forward to being home."
"Yeah, me too." He sighed as he made the turn off the freeway and up toward the mountains. "Me, too."
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